Oral History with Elizabeth Catlett Roberson, Tuesday, 1 August 2017
[The interview was done for 300th anniversary celebration of St. George’s parish. This is an oral history with Elizabeth Roberson who was secretary at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1959 – 1996.]
Beth Daly: This is an oral history being recorded with Elizabeth Roberson for St. George’s Church. I am Beth Daly and Barbara Willis is also with us this afternoon. I’m going to ask Mrs. Roberson a few questions, your name is Elizabeth Roberson, you were born, where?
Mrs. Roberson: Year?
Beth Daly: No, where?
Mrs. Roberson: Where? Fredericksburg.
Beth Daly: You were born in Fredericksburg and would you mind telling us what year?
Mrs. Roberson: 1925
Beth Daly: 1925. Okay, thank you. And where did you got to school?
Mrs. Roberson: I went to school in Stafford, at Falmouth, Falmouth High School.
Beth Daly: Falmouth High School, I see they are having a reunion soon.
Mrs. Roberson: Yes.
Beth Daly: Are you going to go?
Mrs. Roberson: No, no because I’ve been too involved in Fredericksburg.
Beth Daly: Did you live in Falmouth when you went to school there?
Mrs. Roberson: Well my father worked at Chatham for John Lee Pratt’s place so we did most everything we did was in Stafford at the time. And then of course my father owned a home down on well, it was Water Street then, but it’s Sophia Street now. So we were a Fredericksburg and Stafford mix.
Beth Daly: You were a mix. And then after high school, what did you do after high school?
Mrs. Roberson: Went to Mary Washington College.
Beth Daly: You went to Mary Washington College and did you stay? Did you go more than one year? Did you graduate from Mary Washington?
Mrs. Roberson: I did the two years to get a . . ..
Beth Daly: When it was the two-year school? [Mary Washington was always a four-year college, but did give two- year certificates] And then somewhere along in here you got married.
Mrs. Roberson: Yep, I did that too. I don’t know which year I got married, but I know my son was born in 1950. So I got married somewhere between ‘25 and ’50. [Married July 24, 1944]
Barbara Willis: Elizabeth, what was your father’s name?
Mrs. Roberson: Theodore Catlett
Beth Daly: Catlett, that was your maiden name.
Barbara Willis: He was Theodore Catlett and he worked at Chatham for John Lee Pratt. Oh, I’ll bet he had a lot of stories to tell.
Mrs. Roberson: And you know people then, as they do now. If somebody was black you couldn’t go around, you couldn’t be sociable with them. And the chauffeur for Mr. Pratt was my favorite person. I tell you I would walk with him by the hand all day long if he’d let me.
Barbara Willis: What was his name?
Beth Daly: Gourley Ford. [Gourley Wellington Ford, 16 July 1900 – 30 July 1979; chauffeur to John Lee Pratt, Chatham from 1935 to 1969]
Mrs. Roberson: Gourley Ford. I had three older brothers and he would take us, and, he’d take us to the zoo in Washington and Mr. Pratt had the woman that lived with him [Molly Ford, Gourley’s wife] prepare lunch and we’d take it to go there and stay all day. And I said so when people talked to me about integrating the schools you know, oh the children are going to be black. I thought, big deal, I don’t care if they are pink.
Barbara Willis: You learned that early, from Gourley.
Beth Daly: That’s wonderful.
Mrs. Roberson: Somebody makes a remark about you associating with somebody black, I think of Gourley and how I walked with him and I thought I was walking with God.
Barbara Willis: How old were you?
Mrs. Roberson: Oh that was from the time I could walk, so I guess, from three years old on. I was walking with him. ‘Cause he would take me to the garden up there, you know. And pluck flowers. I had a good time. I had a good childlife.
Barbara Willis: What did you do before you came to work at St. George’s for Tom Faulkner? [Reverend Thomas Faulkner was rector from 1946 to 1976]
Mrs. Roberson: I did not have a job. I’d been to college and Paul was about six years old by that time.
Beth Daly: And that was 1959?
Mrs. Roberson: And Mr. Faulkner came to the door. I didn’t know him from Adam, but he had a collar on so I knew he was a preacher. And when I went to the door, he said, can I come in? I said, Yea, come on in. I thought what does he want with me? And you know. He sat down and he said I want to ask you something. Would you come to work for St. George’s Church? And I said, but it’s Episcopal and foreign. And he said, I know, but he said you don’t have to worry about that, I’ll teach you all about it, if you’ll come work for me. I said, how did you know about me? He said, I have ways of finding out. So he was getting ready, you know, you remember the practice of St. George’s to close for August [ summer vacation], Trinity, vice versa, but he said, would you call me before I go on vacation and tell me if you are coming or not. And I said yea, that would be fine. So that night I asked Charles, my husband, I said, you think I ought to go to work for the Episcopal Church? You know it sounded so foreign to me. And he said, if you want to go to work, you go to work, if you don’t want to, you stay right here, that’s fine. I thought that would be my answer. But anyway, but Mr. Faulkner called me because he waited and I didn’t call. I said yes, I’ll come. But if there’s anybody in your church that wants that job and you want to give it to them, you give it to them. Don’t not, don’t do it because of me. He said, that’s fine. I know all about that. So I went to work for him. And so if he had been my father, he couldn’t have been a nicer boss.
Beth Daly: Did you belong to a church at that time?
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yea, First Christian [of Fredericksburg].
Beth Daly: The First Christian.
Mrs. Roberson: And still do. Been there all my life because my father was a member there. And he made us go to church, I mean we didn’t have a choice. Because when he came to Fredericksburg, the only church he had ever been to was Primitive Baptist. And I don’t know if you know anything about them or not, but they don’t have Co2mmunion, they don’t have music, and most time they can’t find a minister to come on Sunday, and if they can find one they have a service at the church where he was born near. He came to Fredericksburg, he was 16, he went to work, he got a room with a couple over on Lafayette Boulevard that was, belonged to the [First] Christian Church. And they took him to church with them on Sunday. He was carried away. He had the Communion and everything that he had read about and so he stuck right there. Stayed right there till he died. And course as we came along, that’s where we went too. And he wouldn’t let you do anything else on Sunday, but eat your meals and go to church. He wouldn’t let the boys go to fish or anything like the other kids was doing. And I couldn’t go to movies on Sunday. We could do nothing but go to church. Then that’s when Mr. Faulkner started talking about the Episcopal church, I thought he was talking about a foreign land somewhere.
Barbara Willis: So what was it like, your first day when you went to St. George’s?
Mrs. Roberson: Well, it was good, because I liked Mr. Faulkner so well. And he was good to me, Lord knows. And you know, on Christmas Eve, after my father had died and we had growed up, my mother would come here on Christmas Eve. She’d make oyster stuffing to go with the turkey, ‘cause I didn’t like it, because I didn’t like oysters. But Mr. Faulkner loved oyster stuffing. He would visit and then come by here and my mother would fix him a plate. He’d eat his plate before he went home. And I don’t think he ever told Mary that he ate here. But he would come by to eat his oyster stuffing every Christmas Eve. And my brothers would all be playing music because they all played music. And singing Christmas carols and all and Mr. Faulkner would be here eating his oyster stuffing. So he was like family to us. And everybody in our family really was…. My mother said when she was in the hospital that when he came to see her, she thought that the prayer that he had for her before he left, every time, was the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard. And my mother had gone to the Christian Church too, but she was really carried away with Mr. Faulkner. So we did. He was really part of our life. I think that’s why I stayed so long. It wasn’t the job; it was the boss.
Barbara Willis: And what type work did you do? You were the only person in the office weren’t you?
Mrs. Roberson: The only one. And I did it all.
Barbara Willis: You answered the phone.
Mrs. Roberson: Answered the phone
Barbara Willis: Dictation, did you take dictation?
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yea, uh huh.
Beth Daly: And you typed the bulletin, the church newsletter, the bulletin? You did that?
Mrs. Roberson: Yep. You know, after I’d been there, I guess a good while, I had never had a computer because, you know when I was in school, you didn’t have a computer. Two of the vestry persons came in and set a computer on my desk.
Beth Daly: What did you do?
Mrs. Roberson: And they said to me, you are going to love this. I said, yea, sure I am. I said put it over on that table where I can look at it. And they put it over on the table. And I thought what am I going to do with it, ‘cause I had never had run a computer. I had an electric typewriter, you know. So Mr. Faulkner asked if I could put all the parishioners on the computer and their children and everything and make a list of it. That would be really good. I thought yea, sure it would. So one afternoon I was sitting there and I thought, this is stupid, I’m going to learn how to run this thing. If I have to sit here until tomorrow night. And do you know I learned how to do it and I did every one of those, because I wanted to so bad. Now there was probably a lot about it that I didn’t know, but I knew enough to do it anyway. So that was the good part about working at St. George’s. ‘Cause nobody else gave me orders, except when Mr. ?????????r Course Charles [Sydnor] was not a boss, I bossed him. Naturally he didn’t me all the things over and over like Mr. Faulkner had to tell me, because I didn’t know, but he had to tell me, but Charles figured I knew.
Beth Daly: By the time he came, you knew pretty much everything about it. Probably more than anybody else.
Mrs. Roberson: The only thing I didn’t do was preach. And I preached when I wasn’t in the pulpit though. You know, one time I went over in the church and Mr. Faulkner asked me, he said that the funeral was going to be there for this man. But man was not a member of the church, but he had family that was and he was from Falmouth and I knew his voice. ‘Cause, and I had heard that man talk to my father and all that, so when they got ready to do his funeral the family wanted him buried from St. George’s. and that was fine and Mr. Faulkner went along with that and when they brought the casket, they brought it in that morning prettied up the chancel. Mr. Faulkner said would you run over there and check to make sure everything is ready for the funeral. He said be sure and go out in the vestibule too and look. I said okay because I knew all about that. I was so smart you couldn’t stand me. I went over there and I out in the vestibule and everything looked okay to me. Came back down the aisle, went up the steps to the chancel and that man said something to me from that casket. And I heard him, and I knew his voice. Well I took off running because you had to go down the steps to get to my office and I ran all the way back to the office and told Mr. Faulkner, but he talked to me, he just sort of smiled, you know. He said, well I reckon I’d better go over there and see what else he wants to say. Maybe he wants to talk to me. He said how did you get down those steps? I said, what steps, I didn’t even remember, I couldn’t tell. So I had lots of fun in St. George’s. And Mr. Faulkner came back and said, well he never said anything to me, I guess he just wanted to talk to you. Said, maybe he wanted to see if you wanted to get in there with him.
Barbara Willis: Did you see a lot of Mary? ‘Cause Mary, wasn’t Mary, she was very involved in the church and Sunday school with the young people particularly, wasn’t she?
Mrs. Roberson: I can tell you a sad, sad story about me and Mary. After Mr. Faulkner died, of course they were living over there in Chatham, you know. And I would go over and take her places and do things with her. And she would want me sometimes just to come and eat with her. And I’d do that too, because my husband had died too. And so, then she sold her house and she moved to assisted living out here in Chancellor’s Village. And so I kept going over there and I’d take her to the grocery store. I’d do whatever, just to entertain, because she and I was just like that. And so we did that for a long time and I know you knew Bev Thompson. So one day, Bev and were going out to take Mary to lunch. And um, because Bev liked to go too over there. So, if I was going, I’d pick Bev up and we’d go together. And we went over there.
Because Bev told me after we got home, she said, if Mary ever calls you and she sounds okay, don’t you go over there by yourself. She said, you come get me and I’ll go with you. And ‘cause what she had was Alzheimer’s, it came on her, Mary had been as sweet to me as Mr. Faulkner had. They were like my parents if I wanted to. If I wanted to categorize them.
Barbara Willis: And she spent a lot of time in the church doing organizing and working with people. Didn’t she start the program to visit people in nursing homes? And she called them The Dolphins? There was a word she used to describe. She wanted to get a group together to sign up to go visit, not just St. George’s, but anyone that was in nursing homes and to think it turned out like that for her.
Mrs. Roberson: That story, I wouldn’t want to be printed in there, the thing we are doing, because it’s too sad. And people, who didn’t ever know her that way wouldn’t even believe it. Well I wouldn’t have, but if somebody else told me that Mary did that, I wouldn’t probably won’t have believed it.
Beth Daly: (Read from Mary Faulkner’s oral history). Earlier, when she was herself, I read that she said, “Elizabeth made our ministry one-third more effective than it was because she was always willing, and enthusiastically willing, to do anything we wanted. And it wasn’t just something little, it was usually something difficult.” That’s what she said about you.
Mrs. Roberson: Yea.
Beth Daly: And she said that you made the “High Tidings” a super publication.
Mrs. Roberson: She was always on my side. I mean, I could never do anything wrong as far as Mary was concerned. And I thought, and of course, well when Mr. Faulkner’s mother died, he brought me a dish that was, I put it in the china closet, and it had a little sterling silver spoon in it. And he brought it down to the church to me. He said, “Elizabeth, this belonged to my mother and she’s gone now.” He said, “but I always loved this little dish,” it was crystal of course. He said, “I want you to have it, because I know you’ll take care of it and you’ll love it.” I said, “but, why don’t you give it to Anne” [his daughter]? Because she wouldn’t care worth one thing about it and you will. And I wanted him to know. So I got the dish. And of course it meant a lot to me that he wanted me to have it. But I did mention Anne to him, because I thought maybe he wasn’t thinking. He probably thought I was thinking too much. But that would, but nobody could have had a better job than working for them. I mean, with even all them parishioners, everybody was, extremely nice to you.
Barbara Willis: Do you remember right off; it seems to me Avis Harris was very involved? She was a volunteer and I know she was in the office doing a lot, she worked with the children, didn’t she? In the Sunday school.
Mrs. Roberson: Yea.
Barbara Willis: She worked with the children didn’t she, doing Sunday school.
Mrs. Roberson: She and I did a lot of things together too. And right till Avis died, she was always there. So I really got to know people like they were my own family.
Barbara Willis: What about Miss Elsie Lewis, was she still active when you came? Miss Elsie Lewis.
Mrs. Roberson: Yea, I knew her well too. Never did anything special with her, but she was always coming. I don’t remember the woman’s name, the woman down on Caroline Street that I told you about that Mr. Faulkner sent me down there right when I first went to work for him to take her something. It was a paper of some kind. Because he knew I came right up Caroline Street on the way home. I stopped and knocked at the door, when she came. I said, Mr. Faulkner sent me to bring you this. And she said, well, who are you? I said, I’m his secretary. She said you look like you ought to be in elementary school. But I found out that she was that type woman, that she said things like that to everybody. So I got to know her real well. So then she didn’t put me down anymore. But she, they said if she didn’t know you, she’d always say something like that, you know. So she did. All and all, the parishioners was really nice and the hours to work and if it was snowing or something, or a Monday morning or something, if Mr. Faulkner couldn’t come to get me, he’d say, don’t come until the snow gets better. And when Charles was there he’d come get me. And they never required anything. I mean, I did a lot things, but it wasn’t like they were standing over me saying “do this, do this, do this.” They didn’t do that.
Barbara Willis: They let you run you run the office.
Mrs. Roberson: That’s what it was. They probably did. That’s probably what happened to it, I ran it right out of Fredericksburg.
Beth Daly: Now you didn’t live over here on Hanson Avenue when you worked at the church, till later? Did you live closer to church?
Mrs. Roberson: I lived here.
Beth Daly: The whole time?
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yes, ever since we got married. Charles, we bought this house, when it was just a foundation.
Beth Daly: You got married in 1944. I noticed.
Mrs. Roberson: . Oh really, and my husband added on to it. He wanted a laundry room and he wanted a bigger kitchen so he added this on the kitchen and the laundry room and the two bedrooms and a full bath upstairs. I mean I got a lot of house I didn’t have, but it’s got a lot of mess in it now too. Because I can’t clean it up. So I feel like it’s a junk hole now.
Beth Daly: It’s very nice.
Mrs. Roberson: Because I can’t go upstairs. Paul loved having his bedroom upstairs and his own bathroom and everything. Being an only child that was good. It was good, he liked that. And Charles loved to do, and Charles had that porch glassed in with those sliding doors on there. You know. And then had the basement dug after we moved here. So I don’t have the same house we bought. But I still have a piece of it.
Barbara Willis: Let’s get back to St. George’s. Beth did you have something else that Elizabeth could enlighten us on?
Beth Daly: Well, I saw that there was a group called The Dragnet.
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yea.
Beth Daly: Can you tell us about The Dragnet.
Mrs. Roberson: I don’t know much about that, but I know about it to tell you the truth. I don’t know enough about.
Barbara Willis: That was for the young people.
Beth Daly: The young people.
Barbara Willis: ‘Cause it was Mary Faulkner and St. George’s, because of all the churches they opened up on Sunday afternoons for any young people to come and get together.
Mrs. Roberson: Now, I remember all that. But I didn’t have real anything . . ..
Beth Daly: Nothing to do with Dragnet.
Barbara Willis: Then the Dragnet came and they had actual dancing. And of course there were some maybe some people who thought there should not to be dancing.
Mrs. Roberson: There were some who thought there should be dancing.
Beth Daly: But the young, the Faulkners were very interested in youth and young people.
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yes. Absolutely.
Beth Daly: And I saw that they had started something called the “Cardless Christmas.”
Mrs. Roberson:Oh yes. I remember that too.
Beth Daly: They felt that spending money on Christmas cards was wasteful and that it would be better to spend the money on something more fruitful.
Mrs. Roberson: And you know really, out of all the churches I had any dealings with and I didn’t say this because I was there, I thought the head people in St. George’s was all interested in helping other people, helping children, helping. That’s what I liked about St. George’s too. Other than the way, but as far as being secretary there, I couldn’t have had a better job. If, I don’t know who have gotten me a better one. And I really, when I went there, I was dubious about it. Because I thought I didn’t, never knew anything about the Episcopal. I don’t want to think about what I thought they did. But I found out they did, but I found out that they served the same God we did.
Beth Daly: Mr. Faulkner wrote a book called the “Gospel for the Twenty-First Century.” Wrote a book called “Gospel for the Twenty-First Century.” Did you, were you involved in that at all?
Mrs. Roberson: No.
Beth Daly: No.
Barbara Willis: That was after you retired. After he retired.
Mrs. Roberson: I rested. I worked for the lawyer. And because he was right out of St. George’s church it was almost like going back to the church.
Beth Daly: What about when Reverend Sydnor came, now he came while Reverend Faulkner was still there.
Mrs. Roberson: Yes he did.
Beth Daly: So there was some overlap. And then,
Mrs. Roberson: And Charles was a good minister and he certainly believed in the right things, but he wasn’t as, I don’t know how to say, Mr. Faulkner looked like he was always involved. Where with Charles wasn’t as involved in everything as I thought Mr. Faulkner was, but that was just my opinion. Nobody else said that, but as far as working for Charles he was fine, ‘cause he said he couldn’t do anything but preach.
Beth Daly: You took care of everything else.
Mrs. Roberson: He thinks I kicked him around. But you know he still comes to visit me. He still is as nice as he can be to me. And he always was. When I was working for him, I never did think of Charles as … and too, Charles was more with the what the Church wanted. He wasn’t one that disagreed a lot with things, but ‘course, I think with Mr. Faulkner people looked up to him, I don’t think they looked up to Charles like they did to Mr. Faulkner.
Barbara Willis: Well there was one period there, Mr. Faulkner got very interested in integrating the Church and he wanted to invite some black members and there were members of the vestry or members of the congregation that weren’t quite sure that that was the right thing to do. Do you remember that period?
Mrs. Roberson: Yes, and you know what, that was something that most of the churches would have felt the same way. But as I said, not me, because I thought black people was good. I thought all of them was fun. Cause the one that helps me in the morning is black too. But now it’s acceptable everywhere. ‘Cause all the churches feeling they invite the blacks, or Mexicans, or anything. I mean you just don’t go with what’s American anymore. And I think it’s a good idea. I think there’s nothing wrong with having churches that are just black churches, their own people that wants to go. I don’t see anything wrong if a black came in my church, if I was able to go, but my pastor tries to come get me every Sunday, but I won’t let him. But this is the first time I’ve missed church like this and do miss it. I told him, I told Tracy [Reverend Tracy Lunceford, First Christian Church of Fredericksburg] last week, I can go to Richmond on Sunday to church. He said how do you get to Richmond when you don’t even want me to take you over here? I said I just move over there and turn the television on. I listen to the Baptist church in Richmond with that Jim somebody that preaches. I listen to that every Sunday morning. And so he said, oh that’s how you go to Richmond. Certainly is, I said it’s a good church.
Barbara Willis: So did you have anybody when, as far as relationships with the parishioners, did they come in and ask you to help them with things or do things with them?
Mrs. Roberson: Well some of them would come in and want something copied you know that wasn’t church stuff. And they would say to me, can you, can you help me? And I always did. And I don’t know if that was good or bad, yep but I helped people with things ‘cause they were parishioners they, it was something that concerned them, not church. But if they asked me to help them, I always helped them. But I enjoyed that, I enjoyed helping people, period. It was fun, but my family did that. I said, I was bound to come up thinking that. My father would help anybody. And I know with four children he didn’t have enough money to help everybody. But if, we went to the beach and we was in that store and he would was buying us something and he’d see a little child that was by hisself, he’d ask the little child is your mother here? And if the child said no, and she wasn’t there, daddy would say, did you want something? And if they said yes, he got them what they wanted too. After he got us what we wanted. And as I said now, as I look back on it, I don’t know how in the world he did it. But he never let anybody suffer if he knew what they needed.
Barbara Willis: Did you ever have some of the homeless people, people coming in and asking for food? Wasn’t there a fund that Mr. Faulkner had and Charles Sydnor had or they had and then they started a pantry of food to give to the needy?
Mrs. Roberson: And I had, right till I left, I had to work with the people that came in. And begging to get their light bill paid. Now where the money was coming from and everything and I knew we could help them. What I was told to do to was take all the information and then call the place they were supposedly owing money to and see why. We had one man to come in one day on crutches. He sat in my office and said that he couldn’t work and him and his family was hungry. And he had children. So I got his name and his address and I said I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I have to check you out a little bit, but you come back tomorrow and if can get some information maybe we can help you. He said okay. And he said do you know where Charles Street Market is? I said yes, oh yea, I know the man that runs that well. And he said, well that’s where I’d like you to call and see if they will help me. Because he said that man knows me. And I said okay I can do that because I knew Charles Skinner well. So the next day I called up there and I didn’t know this man had been in there the afternoon before and told Charles that I had said he could get help. So, when I called up there with Charles Skinner just died laughing. He said, Elizabeth, where were you when he came to your office? I said I was in the office. He said uh, what did he do with his crutches? I said he was walking with them. He kept on laughing. I said I don’t know what you are up to, but you must know something I don’t know. He said, I do. That man does not need one bit of help. He’s got everything he needs. He lives right up here in the area. And he said don’t you dare use church money to try to help that man. And I said, okay, I said that settles it. So you see sometimes, and of course I wasn’t doing it without checking it out. And sometimes you really have to. We had a man one day, at five o’clock he came in and uh, he wanted a room for the night. And I was closing up my office, getting ready to go. For once Charles was still in the office, his office, that late. Most of the time he would leave before I did, not a lot, but sometimes. And this man said he wanted a room. And I said I was sorry I can’t do that for you now because I said I’d have to go back into my office and I can’t do that tonight. You’ll have to come back tomorrow. I said, but you might go to the Salvation Army and see if they’ll keep you over night. And he said, who the hell do you think you are telling me that? You own this church? I said, no, I said I only work here. And um, so, boy he was ready to wring my neck and Charles heard him. And Charles came out of his office and walked up to him. He said, you’ve said enough. My secretary has done exactly what she’s ordered to do for people. And that man said, who are you? He said, I’m the rector. He said, well go to hell. And so Charles put him out.
Beth Daly: So you didn’t see him again.
Mrs. Roberson: So he didn’t get a room that night. But I was glad that Charles was there, but I tell you the truth, I was getting worried about him, because he really treated me with some awful language. And so you had difficult times, but all in all . . .
Barbara Willis: But most of the time I imagine the people were appreciative of anything that the church was able to help them with.
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yes. And ‘cause we, we, the Church did pay a lot of electric bills and would give a lot of food away. But I always ordered the food myself if they bought food I would call the Charles Street Market. And tell them ‘cause I’d know how many was in the family and then what I thought which meal was good. But you had to have some rules, but you know before I left they turned it over to the Salvation Army, you know.
Barbara Willis: There was a food pantry that started.
Mrs. Roberson: So I don’t think they have all of that coming and going probably at the Church office now, because they had individuals then and, but out of every place I could have worked, that where was even good for that because I learned a lot about what people really needed. And some of them came for something they needed and you could find out that that they didn’t need it. But I had to make some sources to go to see if they needed it.
Barbara Willis: Didn’t the Church also let different community groups meet there? Did you have to schedule those meetings? Like the Alcoholics Anonymous or the Boys Scouts, or I’ve forgot what some of the other groups were that needed a meeting place and they were able to, you had a schedule room that was free, they called Faulkner Hall or the Family Room.
Mrs. Roberson: And we didn’t have a lot of that, but we, with some, it really, there was some that we catered to. .But, when the bishop would come from Richmond with his group, they was going to meet in St. George’s, I’d go over and make them a pot of coffee and that was fun too.
Barbara Willis: Because there always was the kitchen. The kitchen down in the Family Room.
Mrs. Roberson: Yea, I’d go there and make them some coffee. So they got so they’d come by office and say, come on over because I knew they was over anyway.
Barbara Willis: Charles came as the assistant to Tom Faulkner . Then when Charles was there he had one or two assistants. Did he have Jack Suter [Assistant 1990 – 1993], came and worked for him?
Mrs. Roberson: Yea, and Jack was one of the sweetest people, he really is a good man. I liked him a lot. In fact, I went down there to his church after he went down there next to Richmond. I went down there when he was preaching, ‘cause I liked him. I’d drive down there on a Sunday morning. And I’ve been to Ron’s [Okrasinski] because Ron was in Colonial Beach. [Ron Okrasinski came in 1978 as minister of education]
Barbara Willis: That’s right.
Mrs. Roberson: And uh, but now Ron was not a man like Jack, he was not a man like anybody else. Ron polite, was kind and nice, but he wasn’t the kind you could fool along with, you know, make jokes with or anything.
Barbara Willis: Ron being Ron Okrasinski. And he’d studied to be a Catholic priest, but decided he wanted to go to the Episcopal seminary. But he came to St. George’s a deacon and he was ordained there. And then the bishop came up for that and that a big ceremony.
Mrs. Roberson: So it’s all kinds of things that you do in the church.
Barbara Willis: That was in 1980.
Mrs. Roberson: But you know girls who work in churches now are not happy in the church office as much as I thought they were when I was doing it. But of course, I guess it has to do with who the preacher is. Who the head man is.
Barbara Willis: Well there are lots, it’s a different time. There are a lot more issues and disturbances and agitation, I think, and probably going on. And the churches are sort of in the front of that. I mean they get hit with it. People want to come to them and complain.
Mrs. Roberson: And you know, because I think that I had brought up so strict in church, I mean you was church and that I liked the idea of what I saw going on at St. George’s, you know, different things with people coming and going and meeting helping. I liked all that.
Barbara Willis: Now Judy Fleming came [Assistant 1986 – 1989]. Was she under Charles Sydnor or Tom Faulkner?
Mrs. Roberson: Sydnor.
Barbara Willis: Sydnor. And she was the first woman, wasn’t she? Did you notice anything different then when she came in?
Mrs. Roberson: She called me when I fell, ‘cause she’s out in New Hampshire or Nevada or somewhere and she called up. “What are your doing now, trying to kill yourself?” So she sent me a coloring book with those crayons, you know.
Barbara Willis: Oh she just did this recently?
Mrs. Roberson: Yea, I’m going to send you something to try to keep you busy because I don’t want you sitting with your hands tied. So she sent me that. But, when Judy was, Judy’s birthday was the 24th of April and mine was the 23rd, so we used to go shopping on our birthdays and we’d have the best time. We was out at the Mall one time and I saw this little dog out there in the place and I loved that little dog. And so when we got home that night, I didn’t know she’d called Paul and told him to go get me that dog, because I was having a fit over it. Paul went out there and got me the dog for my birthday. But, Judy loved dogs, she loved anything. So we sat most of the time and chat and carry on like two fools. But we went to Richmond, and we shopped down there. If it was a Saturday, of course she didn’t have some meeting she had to go to, we’d go to Richmond and shop on our birthdays.
Barbara Willis: Did you feel that when she came, that she opened some doors, so to speak, as the first woman. People have gotten used to the idea of a woman being in there, ‘cause for a while only like saying the prayers or reading the lessons, only the men could do that.
Mrs. Roberson: And Judy was good with people. She could make friends real easy. I went to one service she had one time, I sat on the front row so I could look at her, stupid, you know. She said don’t you come when I preach anymore because you keep me occupied. Said she didn’t want me to mess up her preaching. And, but, as I said, all of the years at St. George’s Church, I tell you, I really enjoyed it. I really did, because it was…. I never felt like I was being over loaded, with work, or anything. I just felt like I was belonged. I mean…
Beth Daly: Feeling good about your job, especially if spent 35 years doing it, yes. You feel good about it.
Mrs. Roberson: I thought I was doing good.
Barbara Willis: You didn’t have to handle the money, there was always a treasurer. And you saw quite a few treasurers. Charlie Hooten was probably there a long, long time while you were there.
Mrs. Roberson: And everyone, well I can think of a couple of cases that I won’t repeat because I’d be afraid somebody would say I told on them. All and all I would say, anybody could have worked at that Church and if they really wanted to work, they could have a good time. Because it wasn’t nobody that would beat you over the head or getting all upset over little things. Not in the office they weren’t anyway. And they may have been with the preachers, but they weren’t with the office, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Barbara Willis: Can you think of one person that you thought was like a leader in the Church, or one of the parishioners that was very active?
Mrs. Roberson: Well, out of all the ones that I knew at St. George’s Church, I can only think of two instances where I really thought the person was out of joint. But all in all,
Barbara Willis: No, I meant that you thought they were outstanding leaders in the congregation.
Mrs. Roberson: Oh, leaders in the congregation.
Barbara Willis: That would come in the office and chat with you and meet to get some information about the other parishioners or help, getting something organized.
Mrs. Roberson: Well you know there was a lot of people in St. George’s, I don’t know if you remember Curtis Backus.
Barbara Willis: Oh, I do.
Mrs. Roberson: But you know, when I first knew him, he was a good leader in the congregation. Because people paid attention to him. Because he was that kind person. And uh….
Barbara Willis: He was always head of the ushers
Mrs. Roberson: What?
Barbara Willis: He was head of the ushers. And his son now is head of the ushers, or works for the ushers.
Mrs. Roberson: He really was a good person. I don’t know if you want to print it in this thing. And it’s a mistake, but he came to the office one day after, soon after I went to St. George’s. My father would go to Jones’ Grocery every day and he’d bring some tidbit to my office and put it on my desk. Chocolate candy and all, grapes, something, he brought me something to eat every day, put it on a dish. And of course, that store belonged to my uncle, so he could go in the store and get it, pay for it and bring it over and put it on my desk. And Mr. Faulkner said to me one day, you are a spoiled brat. I said I am not. He’s my father and he loves me. So after I had worked there for a while, Mr. Faulkner came in one day and said, I owe you an apology. I said what did you do now? It was what I did the other day, I found out that you are not a spoiled brat because everyone that calls up says how lucky we are to have someone who is as sweet as you are. I said, I’m certainly glad you learned something. So anyway, I had a big dish of Hershey’s Kisses on my desk and Curtis Backus came that morning and when Curtis came in, he was like me sitting here, he was on the side of the desk. I said, oh Curtis, want a kiss? And I was so embarrassed, and he said, I certainly do. I said chocolate. You mean you are offering me a chocolate kiss? I thought Mr. Faulkner was going to fall out of his chair laughing at us. But of course he knew exactly what I was talking about, but he kidded he didn’t know, you know. So everybody always teased him about that. And they thought Mr. Faulkner didn’t have a sense of humor, they didn’t know it, ‘cause he did. He laughed at that. But Curtis pretended that he was really insulted. I said, want a kiss? Mr. Faulkner said he knew I shouldn’t have that stuff on my desk.
Beth Daly: So when you look back from 1996 to 1959, the 35 years, thirty-some years, you saw a lot of changes.
Mrs. Roberson: Yep and had a lot of fun.
Beth Daly: Is there anything you thought was the biggest change from when you first started?
Mrs. Roberson: No, there were always changes, but you know, nothing that really that I would say I wish we hadn’t done that.
Beth Daly: Good change.
Mrs. Roberson: Um, as I said, because the change, we didn’t change the things that we did in the office that much. I mean
Barbara Willis: The computer.
Beth Daly: The computer.
Mrs. Roberson: Yea, the computer was a different change and I had to learn, but I loved it after I learned it. Had it to do what I wanted it to do on it. But, you know, I got a picture in my dining room right now. Course I had it framed. I was fixing bulletins one day, and um, and the man I was just talking about the lawyer Bob Haley he came in and he looked down at the back side of these and he said, could you give me one of those. I don’t want it after you type it, I want it now. And I said yea, fine. He said, you know Elizabeth, you ought to pick one too. That would make a nice, if you framed it, picture to hang in your dining room. And I said, I think you’re right. I think I’m going to take one. And I had it framed. And on it says “Come to Your Table” and I have it hanging in my dining room right now. And it made a beautiful picture for the dining room. A space I’ve got for it right over the server.
Barbara Willis: We don’t have a camera do we? Oh yes [cell phone camera] we can take your picture and maybe we can take a picture of what is in the dining room.
Mrs. Roberson: It’s right over the server. There was so much to learn at St. George’s that you could learn a lot of things. There’s a lot of things that the Christian church don’t teach. I don’t mean about God; I mean things that we would not think about doing or having or seeing. And uh, but I feel like they really was my Christian life, because I loved every, the people, there was very few people that was ever rude or anything or upset because something didn’t go their way. You didn’t see much of that. Now maybe all church offices are like that, I don’t know, I never worked another one. And um, I been helping out, but I never had worked anywhere else as the secretary. I think being secretary to a church office is really a great job, really a good job. Now maybe, maybe I’m all wrong and ‘cause maybe some ministers could be really hard to work with, but I don’t know. But I don’t think so. And I think you have to, and too, you can’t pick up everything people say to you because they might say it at a time, just like I was telling you about Mary, and that really hurt me from head to toe, but she couldn’t help it. She didn’t do that because she felt that way. And you know sometimes we say things to people, I’m sure we all do, that we shouldn’t have said. Not because we hate them, but because something was going on, but um, I, and of course I was really blessed that I had parents and three brothers that took care of me personally. My oldest brother would fight a elephant if he thought was it was going to come near me. I mean, nothing, was to touch me, because he was so much older. And um, so I know that I had a different life than a lot of people. I think that means a lot. Sometimes I think when we first moved here, Charles [Roberson, her husband] was digging up beside the front of the front walk. There wasn’t any flowers or anything out there and I said to him, Charles do you think we ought to get some flowers and plant by that walk? He said, no Liz, it’s too early, we may get a frost yet. ‘Bout that time my father drove up and when daddy came up he said, what are you all doing? And I said well, Charles is digging up the walk, but daddy I wanted some flowers, but he says it’s too early. Daddy said, Charles, what wrong with you, today is her birthday, she can have anything she wants. And I am going out right now and get the flowers, and if the frost kills them, I’ll replace them. You haven’t got a thing to worry about. So daddy went and bought flowers. Charles just laughed and said, I don’t know why didn’t you tell him you wanted a million dollars. You said if it was your birthday, you could have anything you wanted, you should have said a million dollars.
Beth Daly: And your birthday was what day now?
Mrs. Roberson: It was the 23rd of April.
Beth Daly: 23rd of April.
Mrs. Roberson: And I thought we could have flowers. But daddy said it’s her birthday, she can have anything she wants. But that’s the kind, when you have a father and three older brothers you got it made. In the shade. And it’s true, I think they do take more care of a girl, if it’s one girl. And every time I would do something I shouldn’t do, my mother would look at daddy and say that she’s yours, because when she told him they had enough children, she said I had three boys, daddy said it’s not because I want a girl. And she said you should have thought about that when you was making boys. So years later, I came along. But as I said, I was blessed to have good family. And then a good job like this.
Barbara Willis: Now you said after you retired from St. George’s you did work a while for Bob Haley in his law office. How long did you work there?
Mrs. Roberson: I worked until he retired and I don’t know if it was five years or seven years, but in that area. But he left three months, he didn’t come in he left me there because I didn’t know lawyers have to keep their clients’ files for five years if they retire. And so he left me there to box them and I labeled the boxes for him and did everything so I stayed in the office after him and he retired. And of course Bob was a good boss too. ‘Cause we. . .
Barbara Willis: He was a member of St. George’s wasn’t’ he? That’s how he knew you.
Mrs. Roberson: We had good time, all the time, regardless of what happened, Bob was always pleasant.
Beth Daly: It must have been very different, a law office, from a church office.
Mrs. Roberson: Oh yea. And I didn’t know anything about law either. But you know I didn’t realize you could work in a law office and you didn’t have to know much about law because they don’t ask you anyway. You only do the work, but Bob told me, he said, the files are all there, if you want, if we got somebody coming in because we had one man who was an Iranian and he was married to a woman over here and had children. She was going to take the children and go back to Iran and he didn’t want to do that, he wanted to stay here. So he had Bob as his lawyer. Well I read all that in his file and he came in one morning and asked for Bob and I said he’s in court this morning, but I can make your appointment for this afternoon. And he said, where’s Bob ‘secretary? I said, you’re looking at her. He said, oh, because he hadn’t seen me. And he said that well, have you ever worked for a lawyer? I said, not long, this is my first one. He said where did you work? And I said at St. George’s Church. He said, at a church office? I said yea, he said oh my gosh, would you pray for me. I said, I certainly will. He pulled up a chair and took my hand and shut his eyes for me to pray for him. So I had a prayer for him, but then, fortunately I knew something about him and I had been reading his file, why I don’t know and um when we got through, he kind of…. I said do you want an appointment this afternoon. He said, no, you’ve done everything for me I need today. he said that’s been the best thing I’ve ever gotten in this law office. I give St. George’s credit for that and but he really was, as I said, he was from Iran, he wasn’t even American. But he wanted me to pray for him, so Bob to be funny, and of course I was, when I told him the man had been in, Bob said did you make him an appointment? I said no, I prayed for him. I said, he wanted it Bob. Bob said, uh now I’ll lose all of my patients [clients] because they all want to think that that this is a church. I said if you don’t want this to be a church I’ll go downstairs and have my office and you stay up here in yours. I said, you do law, I’ll do church. So him and I laughed about that for weeks. But that man was serious. He wasn’t joking, he was serious. But when he found I had worked for a church, he said, will you pray for me? And that’s a big step to take in a law office.
Barbara Willis: So when you retired from Bob or when Bob retired, what did you do, did you have another job? Or is was that it.
Mrs. Roberson: No that’s when I ended my working years, with Bob. As I was saying he was here yesterday, Bob was. And him and Dede come at Christmas and Dede makes me something good to eat. Even cookies or something and they bring it over.
Barbara Willis: It looks like you’ve always had a close association with all the people you worked with and they keep in touch with you and come see you.
Mrs. Roberson: Yes, even yesterday when Bob came and brought the butter beans and he said he was going to stay here overnight in his house. I said, where’s Dede, he said, oh she’s in Tappahannock. He says she’s really involved in the church down there. And he said she tries to keep the grounds and the yard watered there and all this and he said she didn’t come up with me. So, as I said I had many good friends from St. George’s. Tom Guthrie comes all the time, he was the organist you know. And he came the other day and I said, told him I couldn’t find my kitty cat and I said she must be upstairs and I said, I can’t get up there, Tom go up there and look under the beds and see if you see my kitty cat. He said okay, so he went upstairs, I heard him banging doors and I thought he was looking in closets and I knew that the cat couldn’t open one to get in. I thought she was under the bed. He came down, he said, she’d not up there. I said oh my gosh, so I’m sitting here crying ‘cause my kitty cat is dead. So I figured she had to be dead because I get up at five-thirty in the morning and I had not seen her all day and this was like five o’clock in the afternoon. And that kitty cat comes down to eat. I called her at lunch time and she didn’t come, so sad, she died. So I decided she died. So while I was sitting here crying about my kitty cat, Susan my friend came by she said, what’s wrong with you? I said, I think my kitty cat is dead. And she don’t like cats or dogs, either one, of course if it was her, she wouldn’t care either way. She said, she’s probably upstairs. I said, Tom went up there and so I don’t think she’s up there. She said, she could be because when I go up there, sometimes I have to look good because she’s got a little hiding place under the bed right where it’s real dark and the cat as gray as she is, Tom probably couldn’t see her. So Susan went upstairs and she came down and said, your kitty cat is fine. She said I reached over in that little corner where she likes to stay and she bit at me. I said, that’s good, I’m glad she bit at you because you was probably going to drag her out. So that night the kitty cat came back down, so, but see they was putting the siding on the house, been doing it for the past two and half weeks.
Beth Daly: Cats don’t like that. Noise.
Mrs. Roberson: And they were working on the storm windows in the back. And I guess hammering up there scared her, so she got in her corner and wasn’t coming out. So Tom came back the next day, one day later and came to the door and when he looked in and said, can I come in. He thought the cat was dead, you know. I said yea, you can come in. He said, well I have worried myself to death about your cat. I said, oh stop worrying, she’s fine. He said she’s fine? I said yea, and he said, why didn’t you call me? I said, I didn’t think you was interested. I set there and worried myself to death for worrying that cat was dead and I knew you were going to have a fit. I had the fit, but she didn’t die. I told him I had a good fit.
Barbara Willis: Do you remember any of the organists, or was Tom Guthrie the main organist while you were there?
Mrs. Roberson: Well, you know, when Tom was the organist, of course, I guess him and I had the closest friendship down there, because he knew he could talk to me any way, any time. And I wasn’t going to judge him. And think that’s why he still comes here, just like he belongs here. He’ll come here at five o’clock, sometimes he comes at two o’clock, it depends when he comes to town. He’s going to another church. He’s got a job sometime in August, way down in the lower part of the Carolinas or something, from there he goes somewhere else, and I don’t know where the church is, he’s going to send me the address. But he told me, he said, I’ll be out of town, pretty much out of town, but he said if you need something, I’m going to give you my address and you call me or write me. So I have a lot of friends from St. George’s.
Barbara Willis: Yes, you certainly do.
Mrs. Roberson: And you know, that’s good too though. It says to me that people don’t forget when you treat them right do they.
Barbara Willis: And how old are you, Elizabeth?
Mrs. Roberson: Me? I want to lie; I think I’m 29. You think that’s right? Sometimes I mix numbers up, I could be 92.
Beth Daly: That’s good, 29 is good.
Mrs. Roberson: That’s why I haven’t got any sense.
Barbara Willis: I wouldn’t say that.
Mrs. Roberson: I think my brain is gone.
Barbara Willis: Well Beth, do you think there is anything more we should ask Elizabeth?
Beth Daly: I don’t know; I can’t think of anything.
Mrs. Roberson: You have to be careful with what you do with anything I said.
Barbara Willis: No, you’ve been wonderful.
Mrs. Roberson: They’ll put me in jail.
Barbara Willis: No, it’s been wonderful
Beth Daly: Yes, wonderful. Thank you so much.
Barbara Willis: We got the feeling of your experience of being at St. George’s because you were there as long as most of the ministers, only two or three, McGuire, then Tom Faulkner and Sydnor, they all had thirty or more years and you had that too.
Mrs. Roberson: And the thing about St. George’s that the parishioners there were the easiest people to get to know. There was one woman there that had a son same age as mine, and she was having a terrible with him and she called one morning and wanted to speak to Mr. Faulkner. And I said he hasn’t come in yet, but as soon as he comes in, I’ll have him give you a ring. And she said can I ask you some questions? And I said, oh sure. So she talked about what would your son done in such a situation and how would he have handled such and such? And when I finished, of course I was blessed there too, Paul was not a trouble-maker at all, he was a sweet child. And course because he was mine, he had to be sweet, you know that. So when Mr. Faulkner came I told him she called and he said, did she want me to call her. I said she acted like she did, but we had a right long conversation and she was okay, she’d call you back about nine. Oh, he said you answered all her questions you compared notes did you? I said yea. So when she talked to Mr. Faulkner the next time, she told Mr. Faulkner she had learned a lot from our conversation as to what, how I would have treated the situation. So see sometimes you do something you know, you don’t even know you are doing it. I didn’t think I was doing anything for her, I just told her how sweet my child was.
Barbara Willis: Well now we’ve got to take your picture and take a picture of something significant you have hanging on your wall.
Mrs. Roberson: You know what not to put in that thing. Don’t put any bad stuff in there. Just put in my opinion of the Church. In fact, I don’t think I would say anything bad because I love the Church. Of course if I hadn’t liked the job, I wouldn’t have stayed 35 years. Because I had a husband working for a lot of those.
Recorder stopped; interview ended 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Transcribed by Beth Daly, 12 and 13 August 2017
Edited and proofed by Beth Daly and Barbara Willis 21 August 2017
Proofed by Beth Daly 22 August 2017
Proofed by Barbara Willis 11 September 2017
Corrections made by Beth Daly 12 September 2017